The prosecutors pursuing the death penalty against the Army psychiatrist accused in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage will soon begin trying to answer a difficult but key question: Why did Maj. Nidal Hasan attack his fellow soldiers in the worst mass shooting ever on a U.S. military base?
Both sides offered a few hints. Although he’s been mostly silent in the courtroom, Hasan used his brief opening statement to tell jurors he had “switched sides” in what he called America’s war with Islam, and he later leaked documents to the media showing he believed he could be a martyr.
Military prosecutors opened the trial by saying they would show that Hasan felt he had a “jihad duty,” referring to a Muslim term for a religious war or struggle. After calling almost 80 witnesses over two weeks, prosecutors said Friday they would begin tackling the question this week.
How much they can say to jurors, however, may be limited by the judge. Even though plenty of information about Hasan’s extremist views has been published outside the courtroom, the 13 military officers on the jury said they had not closely followed the case and wouldn’t read news coverage during the trial.
Prosecutors asked the military judge, Col. Tara Osborn, on Friday to approve evidence and several witnesses to explain Hasan’s mindset. Such evidence includes references to Hasan Akbar, a Muslim soldier sentenced to death for attacking fellow soldiers in Kuwait during the 2003 Iraq invasion.
Prosecutor Col. Steve Henricks told Osborn that Hasan had shown interest in Akbar’s case and prosecutors wanted to prove Hasan’s attack was a “copycat.”
The skeptical judge told Henricks she didn’t want to hold a “mini-trial” of Akbar and asked how he would introduce the case to jurors. Henricks said he planned to call a prosecutor to discuss its basics. Akbar was prosecuted by Col. Mike Mulligan, the lead prosecutor in Hasan’s trial.
Henricks has alleged that besides his so-called “jihad duty,” Hasan was looking for ways to get out of deploying, and he said witnesses could include former classmates who heard him talking about suicide bombers.
Prosecutors also said they wanted to introduce three emails. The FBI has said Hasan sent numerous emails to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born Islamic cleric killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
Osborn promised to rule Monday on what prosecutors could present.
While prosecutors clearly have an advantage in how much evidence is on their side, the 13-officer jury must be unanimous in convicting Hasan of premeditated murder and for the approval of a death sentence.